These days, in certain corners, it’s something akin to a truism that every woman is a warrior, a badass, a queen. It is, for that reason, a profound relief to meet Hazel, the passive, hapless, magnificently abject protagonist of Alissa Nutting’s deranged new comic novel...I loved Hazel immediately, the way I love drunk women who instigate alarmingly personal conversations in bar bathrooms. She is the rare literary heroine in whose company it would be a pleasure to absolutely wreck my life ... Nutting gets enormous mileage out of the labyrinthine ways in which her characters redirect their romantic impulses. And she has a knack for placing moments of tender horror where straightforward affection might otherwise live ... There is no redemptive thesis in Made for Love whatsoever: when Hazel begins to gradually emerge from her chrysalis of pathos and male entrapment, she’s much the worse for what she’s gone through. Even so, the book is a total joyride, dizzying and surprising, like a state-fair roller coaster that makes you queasy for a moment but leaves you euphoric in the end.
...[a] hilarious, madcap novel ... Hazel’s confrontation with her father’s geriatric—but enthusiastic—sexuality is the novel’s great gift. Encounters with parental desire are notoriously, timelessly cringeworthy, but some of us are fated to have more of them than others ... Nutting deftly illustrates the uncanny creep of the technological into the realm of affect, but what’s truly creepy is how ordinary it all comes to seem ... Touchingly, the verisimilitude of these scenes involving her father and Diane lies in the complexity of Hazel’s own feelings. In navigating her manifold, often simultaneous emotional responses—disgust, disapproval, curiosity, pride, annoyance—Nutting lays bare the strange intensity and intimacy of the familial bond ... Like in those triumphant, early escape-from-domesticity novels, Byron is a straightforward scoundrel, and Hazel’s freedom becomes the unassailable good the reader is cheering for, which can get a bit tiresome ... Nutting’s smart, ribald, and hugely entertaining new novel provokes many chuckles. Occasionally, she reaches higher, and grants the reader flashes of something truly great: a striking view of the pathetic, that Gogolian, absurdist sublime.
...the setup, for all its toomuchness, is seeded with promising ideas about intimacy, need, projection, and surveillance. But these ideas are never more interesting than in their first iterations. The novel's opening is satisfying: Hazel and Byron's courtship plays out as a perfect parody of Fifty Shades of Grey, and Nutting mocks wealthy tech culture with scorching glee. But after this sketch of lurid alienation, the rest of the novel relies on the outrage of the premise when it should tease out these conceptual underpinnings. Good satire locates some bone-deep but unarticulated aspect of our human experience and whips the veil off of it when we least expect it. It's like charisma — some inexplicable combination of timing and electricity. Whereas Nutting introduces an ostensibly crazy concept (sex with dolphins!) very plainly at the outset, and then simply shades in the details. Her humor is not antic, mischievous, fleet, or unexpected — just shocking ... Made for Love has a deviant instinct that make it initially captivating — but it doesn't do the necessary other work of a good novel.
Nutting can be obvious and jokey about skewing tropes but often it’s hard to gauge her taste level relative to her material, and to measure accordingly her ironic distance. Even whether she borrows from Fifty Shades on purpose or not is unclear ... The way Made for Love is structured, with two acts zigzagging between the misadventures of Hazel and those of Jasper, both nearly ending in suicide, and a whirlwind third act, allows for no spoilers. Of course they’re the two ending up together...Settling instead for more humanity, they end the novel like lovers in any classic rom-com, with a belated first kiss...A moment like this in a more gorgeous novel could be agony, and even here, downplayed to a note of regressive, sensible hope, it sounds so romantic. Here we find what our devices, so responsive and evolved, have yet to provide or reproduce. Not saying, but trying. Not touching, but almost touching. The unbelievable dumb ache of that almost, of being so close.
Nutting is the perfect writer to examine this absurdity, and what she’s done in Made for Love is remarkable. Let’s just put it out there: go read this book. In twenty-three chapters, which advance in a page-turner style reminiscent of another Florida powerhouse named Carl Hiaasen, Nutting covers a lot of ground: technology’s promises, limitations, and the enduring – though often forgotten – allure of natural life and love. And although her writing shares superficial similarities with Hiaasen’s, Nutting is consistently funnier, and she has a more careful eye for literary flourishes. For every punchline, Nutting also renders her characters’ most intricate neuroses in vivid, memorable detail ... It’s a credit to Nutting’s dexterity that she can examine something as large and unwieldy as technology’s influence over our lives while also plotting a relatable story about falling out of love in one place, and looking for it in another.
Made for Love delivers with this wacky, hysterical and crazy-compelling story. Virtually every sentence of this book is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Nutting starts with scenarios that are already ridiculous, and she takes them to the extreme, until your sides are splitting and your senses are dazzled. With her wit plus the intrigue of the plot, it really is impossible to put down ... under the layers of brilliant, rollicking prose and the threat of technology consuming our lives, there’s a poignant tale of the nature of love, marriage and family. And a lot of hilarious details on the mechanics of a sex doll.
Thematic resonances notwithstanding, Nutting doesn’t bring it all together until the novel’s 300 pages are nearly up...Not to worry, though — the shambolic, strings-showing style is part of Made for Love’s deranged charm, a sort of radical transparency between author and reader that says, as long as you’re someone who delights in this brand of pleasant experience, let’s not make a big deal about fine-toothed structure ... yes, Nutting’s novel both showcases and epitomizes a working definition of hot mess — but with this novel there can be no disputing that she is funny as hell.
Stylistically, the novel is a frenetic, pulpy mash-up that talks like the goddess of all blogs — maddeningly self-aware yet casually funny — and is at its best when it indulges in a kind of American grotesque ... often a jarring, unnecessary ethical order is imposed upon the text rather than arising shaggily from the novel’s mayhem. A glaring instance is Jasper’s interwoven story, which, while thematically in the same romantically challenged universe as Hazel’s, functions awkwardly as a detachable part...Similarly, I couldn’t square the book’s many outrageous scenes with the naïve plot devices that overlay them ... Still, Hazel emerges naturally enough as the book’s ethical anchor, grounding the madness of bloodlusting corporate mind control in familiar anxieties about aging, failing at succeeding, and feeling unlovable for incalculable reasons.
Made for Love doesn’t so much unfold as spill out, a crackpot piñata of sex dolls, dolphin coitus, and droll postmillennial satire. Nutting’s surreal style is both manic and tender; her characters — the hapless Hazel, her coolly malevolent ex, a leathery, nippleless outlaw named Liver — read like demented refugees from a Kurt Vonnegut novel, dragged into the 21st century and deep-fried in Florida sunshine. But they’re endearingly human too: kooks and misfits who fail at love over and over, and still, against all evidence, try again.
If your literary tastes lean toward the realistic — family dramas, torrid romances, anything with an emotional journey — Alissa Nutting’s second novel, Made for Love, won’t be for you. But if wackadoo narratives with hints of adventure and characters with bizarre personality quirks are more your speed, this weird and meandering puzzle of a book might be just the ticket ... Nutting can sure drum up a real hoot of a sentence. Plus, she’s sure as your bottom not afraid to stretch the boundaries of what’s considered hot as far as sexual preferences are concerned ... Unfortunately, that’s where the gushing ends. While Byron is certainly a menace, albeit a wimpy and geeky one, it’s hard to imagine that he’d actually kill Hazel if she didn’t come back to him, as the narrative would have you believe. And while it is admittedly terrifying to imagine a world in which mind-melds were possible and it is easy to draw comparisons to our Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Apple/Microsoft/Amazon-reliant (obsessed) society, it’s equally clear that such things have been written about before. Sometimes the same old metaphors, the same old parallels, just become tired. But let’s end on a high note. As in many technology-driven adventure stories featuring a slightly awkward female heroine, Made for Love does have a happy-ish ending — and it’s funny, sort of.
...Nutting deftly exploits the comic potential of perverse attachments, here to sex dolls, aquatic mammals, and technological devices ... Though Jasper’s zany plot strand eventually ties into Hazel’s story and touches on relevant themes of anonymity and objectification, it never fully works. Nonetheless, the novel charms in its witty portrait of a woman desperate to reconnect with her humanity.
...the mix of barefaced candor and mordant humor will be familiar to the author’s fans, as will the deeply flawed protagonist ... Nutting’s prose style is distinctive, and the narrative is shot through with her inventive language, and she’s adept at creating darkly absurd situations. But character-building is not among her strengths. Hazel never quite emerges as a fully formed person, which makes it hard to remain interested in her ... While Nutting borrows plot elements from thrillers, narrative momentum is constantly undercut by back story and scenes that are odd and amusing but not entirely necessary. An uneven effort from a terrific writer.